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Part two of Picard's solo adventure double bill - sun, sand, sex, and silly time travelling aliens
We open on a throwaway prop that Trek fans everywhere will come to know and giggle about, but for now we know nothing about this nor these two mysterious aliens who reek of time travel. Prologue aside, our first mission is to peer pressure a weary Captain Picard into going on vacation. Fortunately, the crew are up to the task, and Riker pushes him towards the pleasure planet, Risa. Riker has one additional prank to pull as he asks Picard to bring him back a horga’hn, with hilarious consequences a few scenes later.
Off he goes to Sound Stage 16, which for the first time in a long, long while looks pleasant and inviting! There he runs into archaeologist-slash-thief Vash who wastes no time at all in laying lips on him to avoid running into Rom... I mean, Sovak. There follows all sorts of treasure hunting shenanigans as Picard and Vash run around chasing a priceless relic from the future, hindered by the Ferengi that Vash ditched in order to get to Risa in the first place. It all comes to a head as Picard exposes Vash’s deception about the plot device they’re all searching for - and in the process exposes the time travelling aliens as out to steal the MacGuffin too. Picard, thoroughly refreshed, returns to the ship with a smug grin on his face. Riker grins even more widely: “I knew he’d have a great time.”
“Tell me, Number One, is the entire crew aware of this little scheme to send me off on holiday?”
This Ira Steven Behr’s first time leading a script all by himself, and unlike most Trek writers he goes straight for the comedy and nails it. Another first timer with this episode, director Chip Chalmers, fell in love with it because “we proved Patrick Stewart is extremely funny.” However, while Behr got the solo writing credit, as usual there was a lot of push and pull behind the scenes. Behr’s original draft featured a carnival attraction that revealed people’s greatest fears, showing Picard stuck behind a desk as an admiral and Riker in command of the Enterprise. However, Gene Roddenberry shut this idea down, suggesting that fears about aging weren’t in consistent with his ideal of 24th century human existence. However, Roddenberry loved the idea of Behr’s ‘pleasure planet’, Risa.
What really set the direction for the storyline was Patrick Stewart grumbling that he didn’t get enough sex and violence. As Behr recalled: “Patrick kept saying that the trouble with the show is there’s not enough f-ing and f-ing: fighting and fornicating.” Behr took his Maltese Falcon-inspired plot, jazzed it up by taking Ronald D. Moore’s suggestion to make the MacGuffin from the future and not the past, and ran with more sexual innuendo than Trek had ever seen before - all with Roddenberry’s express blessing.
Lots of words are thrown in for fun. There’s the sexuality idol, the horga'hn, and its associated ritual jamaharohn, not to mention the Tox Uthat plot device everyone is after, which oddly is the only term in the screenplay not to be included in the pronunciation guide. Behr uses his special words with care, and every term does great work in the script. I admire this combination of inventiveness and economy of language - it’s rarer than it might seem, although the abrupt mention of ‘code 14’ to blow up the MacGuffin colours a little outside the lines for my taste.
The original screenplay had a different ending to the one we saw on screen: it closed on a repeat of the opening sequence, showing the Vorgon coming back to have another attempt. I’m glad this was cut - this story didn’t need that epilogue, especially after Picard spells it out to Vash explicitly, and it’s much more satisfying to end on Riker’s smug mug anyway.
You could be forgiven for thinking that those charming opening scenes are a full ensemble affair, but in fact Brent Spiner’s Data has no speaking lines, and neither LeVar Burton nor Wil Wheaton appear at all (no Wesley? I knew there was a reason I liked this episode!). Nonetheless, everyone who does take part in trapping the Captain into going on holiday has a blast with their scenes, and Patrick Stewart is wonderfully weary and resistant throughout. Obviously, this is Stewart’s solo adventure, but he is absolutely perfect as the straight man to everyone’s jests and jibes.
It helps he has such a great supporting cast too! Jennifer Hetrick’s Vash has brilliant on screen chemistry with Stewart, and they will get her back both for TNG and later for DS9 as well.
I feel like there's a story regarding L.A. Law’s Corbin Bernson and Hetrick, since on that show she played his lover, fiancé, wife, and ex-wife in a few short years spanning the interval during which this episode was shot. Bernson was in “Déjà Q” earlier this season, but if there's a anecdote here about her casting I haven't been able to uncover it. Hetrick remarked of playing Vash in this episode:
It seemed like a Romancing the Stone/Raiders of the Lost Ark-type story. I did use that as an example, but not specifically for my character. I just used my own imagination and what I know of myself and found her very adventurous and conniving to a degree, but also vulnerable and committed. I loved the Ferengi, Sovak. I was spared the make-up fortunately. When I saw what everyone else had to go through, I was thrilled. Thank God, I was human.
And who is it who endured all that time in make-up so that Hetrick didn’t have to…? It’s none other than Max Grodénchik, who will go on to play the clumsy-yet-good-hearted Ferengi Rom in Deep Space Nine.
Grodénchik takes to his role extremely well, and is aided enormously by writer Behr finally solving the problem of how to use the Ferengi. He writes Sovak for humour, and in so doing opens a path that will keep the Ferengi part of the Trek mythos for hundreds more episodes. Rom will be a career-making role for Grodénchik, and it is perfectly foreshadowed by Sovak. As for Grodénchik’s other roles, one stands out: he played the title villain in the 1995 Rumpelstiltskin horror movie.
What about the woman who offers to help Picard reach jamaharohn...?
That’s Deirdre Imershein, who crops up in DS9 later in a different role. She managed to land a recurring role in Dallas on the back of this gig!
The other two guest stars are the Vorgon.
The performances are fine, although these are the least interesting roles in the script, but the acting talent are worth a mention. Michael Champion played the villainous Helm (“the dome will crack!”) in 1990s Total Recall, while Karen Landry played Myra White in the first three seasons of St. Elsewhere, her one recurring role in a career of bit parts.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
Alas, no studio miniatures of notes, but lots of lovely models, especially that beautifully carved horga’hn, that’s so great they use it in the opening shot where Sound Stage 16 gets to be Planet Heaven instead of Planet Hell for a change..
The screenplay asked for it to be made out of stone... I imagine the prop designers had a good laugh about that suggestion!
There’s much work for the make-up team, too - look at Jerry Quist making all the ‘pasties’ (fake breasts to modestly cover your real ones)!
The Vorgon make-up is pretty good too (although it never felt entirely right to me) and their transporter effect is lovely. Let’s have a look at that again!
Finally, there’s a pair of matte paintings that are used very briefly in the cave exploration montage to help stress the scope of the adventure.
They’re very simple, but they do their jobs well.
All in all, this is a classy episode with a little bit for everyone, including the smuttiest innuendo yet encountered in Trek and Picard as a reluctant Indiana Jones. What’s not to like!
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